Who knew that the little every day errands we take for granted can become a logistical puzzle when it comes time to take care of them for someone else? I have been looking over multiple online calendars trying to find a free calendaring system to help schedule meals, rides, and overnights for my friend who is in treatment for a brain tumor. Here is a review of some of the systems so far…
This site is set up with a scheduler to be able to assign people to tasks or to let them assign themselves. It has a few bugs, but it’s what we used for the first round of rides to and from chemotherapy treatments. It’s a fairly new site, so there are still some kinks being worked out. The biggest problem I had was registering people in the group online. It’s a bit confusing for people and it takes my approval to finally get them in, and by that time they are long gone and not engaged anymore or think they have not been approved. Email addresses that have spam protection on them, like SpamArrest, did not receive invites too and there appears to be no way to work around that, other than to get an email that has no spam protection on it.
The scheduling piece was very sophisticated and provides an online calendar of tasks and their assigned individuals. It is set up so that those people who join the lotsahelpinghands.com site you set up can claim their own task or event, without you having to schedule everyone through a central coordinator. Unfortunately, for some reason, some people did not seem to want to take the time to learn how to claim a ride or task in the system and complained about it and refused to schedule through the system. Instead, they would declare their intent for a day or event, and than I would have to schedule it for them in the system. So, it didn’t save any time for the most part. It did change the color of the day when a task was assigned, which was a great feature to let me know what days still needed to be scheduled.
However, if you have a bunch of tech-phobic individuals, this system can overwhelm them, even though the concept and execution are probably better than anything else that you don’t have to program yourself. It has a way to alert people when their task is coming up through email too and a way to add recurring events like medical appointments or rides.
This is another option and it also tends to be quite sophisticated. It can be a great way to add events, and you can invite certain people to come to the event through the scheduler using their email addresses. It will only let people who know your google username and password to modify the online calendar, which means you really have to trust these people. You can’t have everyone who joins given that password or it’ll be impossible to manage the changes. So, the control is still centralized to a particular coordinator or two. However, the nice thing about Google calendar is that it can be made public or embedded in other systems, making it far more versatile than Lotsahelpinghands. If you add a task widget from http://www.rememberthemilk.com, you can also potentially add day tasks for things like groceries etc. But, again, that may be more sophisticated than you need. Otherwise, you can set up recurring events, if you have appointments that fall on particular days and you can send invitations too, through the email invite until someone claims it. Obviously, that’s a heck of a lot of emails going back and forth and tough to manage.
So, it’s really not a group calendar unless you allow someone to modify the calendar, and it doesn’t differentiate between tasks like rides, meals, and overnights, unless you write it in the title so people know. It doesn’t really show me if a task is assigned by changing colors automatically, a feature in Lotsahelpinghands.com that was very valuable. I’m not expert on this system, but it does have some advantages, including the ability to print it out in paper format, which I will show how it works well for what we need later. I didn’t see a way to find out who has claimed what task, which is essential for managing the entire month of tasks.
You can go and set up an Ning community, at ning.com, to develop a support team for the person who is ill online. They now have an events scheduler which works wells for meetings and lets you RSVP and comment on each entry too. One of the issues that I saw here is that they want a photo or picture for every event, which is too time-consuming to keep uploading for multiple events like we’re trying to schedule. It’s okay for like a monthly support meeting, but I don’t want to do it for daily events, and there is no recurring event function as in Google and LotsaHelpinghands. So, while I love the RSVP and comment on each event features, I really, really need the recurring event feature and a way to track who claims what ride, meal, or overnight stay without too much fuss. You can ask people to send a comment when they claim a task, and the system will send an email to the coordinator. That is one way to do it, but I will have to open each individual email, check to see that they are claiming and not dropping a task in the comments, and then hope I didn’t miss anything. Too tricky.
The Community Solution
For something as vital as home care, you can’t rely on electronic solutions. They should be available to establish tools to expedite the scheduling, but a good old-fashion support team meeting to schedule different tasks is really the ticket when you are working with a large number of people on your support team. It will keep emails to a minimum and allow for proper communication.
So, far, I’ve come up with scheduling all monthly support meetings with the Ning Events function. This shows up on the front page and people can RSVP. One photo upload only for me and a quick RSVP functionality that is simple to use and easy for me to check. Also, I am updating a Google online calendar with the initials of each person next to each task scheduled, who agreed at the meeting to do that task. I embedded the calendar in an Ning Community and I sent out invitations to everyone’s email to join the Ning Community (not the Google Calendar). Ning can allow the network to be private, yet not require my approval for them to join. They get the invitation, click on it, and are immediately in. They can then see the monthly scheduled meetings featured on the front page using the Ning events scheduler. They can click on the title and RSVP if they are coming. I can go in any time and open the same link and see who and how many people have RSVP’d that meeting. Underneath that, I embedded the Google calendar of home care tasks.
They can then set the Google Calendar view to either week, month, or agenda. They can see their initials next to the task and track it that way. I can print out the coming month’s tasks for the next meeting. I can add initials of who claims what. I update the Google calendar with initials, and then I update the embedded Google calendar. They can print out this calendar too – a huge benefit! This way, I can meet with my friend earlier, schedule the tasks in Google, or share the password with him, so he can schedule the following month’s needed tasks. All that I do, is edit the title to add initials at a group meeting or later. If that doesn’t work, I can meet once with my friend to put in the tasks, meet once with the group to assign, and then everything else is online with a minimum of emailing and phone calls. And, the added benefit of using an Ning community is that the support team can “talk”to each other, add comments to any task, add blog posts, and generally become more involved with each other to help the support team become a true community. This is an additional layer of communication for those people who didn’t make the meeting, but are involved in the care. For instance, we decided everyone would bring their own sheets for overnight stays, and then take them with them to reduce laundry needs. So, I post that information online, and those that miss the meeting now have that information. I forgot to mention the size the of the bed, and someone commented that they need to know the size of the bed. So, posting that information online updates it for everyone and makes it public to those individuals in the network, whether they attended the meeting or not. So, little by little, we’re getting better organized and working out a system of care with free online communities and calendars.